Category: UK Travel

The Most Outrageous Festivals in the World

The Most Outrageous Festivals in the World

Weird, Wild, and Wonderful. Here are the Most Outrageous Festivals in the World.

I’ve been thinking about festivals lately. Festivals are a strange thing. They can start as a goofy way for a few people to kill time and grow over the years until they are major, multiple-day events drawing crowds from all over the world. The best festivals are loved and adored by the locals, yet make no sense to anyone visiting from another area. Some of the most outrageous festivals in the world have deep roots in tradition and lore. This is what makes them special, and if you’re lucky enough to participate in one, even as an outsider, you’ve had the experience of a lifetime.

Here are the most outrageous festivals in the world….

La Tomatina – Spain

Tens of thousands of people flock to the Valencian town of Buñol, Spain, on the last Wednesday of August to participate in a festival known as La Tomatina. If you think that sounds like it might have something to do with tomatoes, you are correct. Over 300,000 pounds of tomatoes, to be precise!

The tomatoes are shipped into the Plaza del Pueblo at the center of the town. When the cannon sounds, it’s every man for himself as one of the world’s biggest food fights begins. Festival goers rush toward the tomatoes and begin lobbing them at each other, resulting in a huge red mess.

Most Outrageous Festivals: La Tomatina in Spain is one of the world's biggest food fights.
Source

If it sounds like it could be dangerous, have no fear. There are six rules that keep it safe:

  1. Do not throw bottles or hard objects.
  2. Do not tear or throw tee-shirts.
  3. Squash tomatoes before throwing them to avoid hurting others.
  4. Keep a safe distance from trucks.
  5. Stop throwing tomatoes after the second starter pistol shot.
  6. Follow the directions of security staff.

Also, I’d recommend wearing something to protect your eyes, such as swimming goggles or mask.

According to Wikipedia, the festival has its roots in a 1945 altercation. Some young boys decided to take part in a “Giants and Big-Heads” parade. The big head of one participant’s costume fell off, at which point he flew into a fit of rage and began hitting everything in his path. Pandemonium broke loose and a market stall of vegetables fell victim to the fury of the crowd as people began pelting each other with tomatoes. It continued until the local forces ended the battle.

The following year, some young people engaged in a pre-planned quarrel and brought their own tomatoes from home. Although the police broke it up, this began the tradition. In the following years, the young boys’ example had unwittingly made history.

If you plan to go, you should know that admission requires a ticket, and lodging in Buñol is scarce.

If you have an aversion to tomatoes, or find that you really enjoy large scale food fights as an adult, there are other, similar festivals elsewhere in the world. For example:

  • Els Enfarinats Festival (Flour Fight) – Ibi, Alicante, Spain, December 28
  • Throwing Of The Grapes Festival – Middle Swan, Western Australia in February and Binissalem, Mallorca, Spain, in late September
  • Battle of the Oranges –  Ivrea, Italy, a few days before Lent begins

Surva – Bulgaria

Surva is also known as the International Festival of Masquerade Games. It is held over the course of three days in Pernik Bulgaria (near Sofia), usually in late January.

Masquerade rituals come from old pagan times and are still alive in the Bulgarian folklore tradition. The symbolic meaning of the dancing rituals is related to the end of the old year and the advent of the new and to the upcoming awakening of nature for new life. These rituals represent the wish for a rich harvest, health and fertility for humans and farm animals. They are intended to chase away the evil spirits and prepare people for a new beginning.

The masks, according to folklore beliefs, protect from the harmful influence of impure powers. The masks feature feathers and traditional symbols. Everything is made of leather and natural materials, exactly as it was done in the past. The sound of the bells hanging from the belts of the dancers reinforces the protective properties of the masks.

The festival features a massive costumed parade with over 100 international groups, bonfires and light shows. Spectators can interact freely with performers along the parade routes and on the improvised stages arranged throughout the town. Surva also features interesting outdoor exhibitions and vendors of traditional Bulgarian arts and crafts throughout the town.

Kanamara Matsuri Festival – Japan

I’m just going to come right out and say it. This festival is all about the penis. Yes, that’s right. If you haven’t yet heard of or seen pictures from the Kanamara Matsuri Festival in Japan, prepare to be amazed….

The festival is a Shinto celebration whose name means “Festival of the Steel Phallus” in Japanese, and it centers around a shrine in Kawasaki Japan.

The shrine’s origin story holds that a jealous sharp-toothed demon hid inside the vagina of a young woman with whom the demon had fallen in love. The demon bit off penises of two young men on their wedding nights. After that the woman sought help from a blacksmith, who fashioned an iron phallus to break the demon’s teeth, which led to the enshrinement of the item.

The Kanayama Shrine was popular among prostitutes who wished to pray for protection from sexually transmitted infections. The shrine also offers divine protections for business prosperity, and for the clan’s prosperity; and for easy delivery, marriage, and married-couple harmony.

The festival started in 1969 and is held every year on the first Sunday in April. Today, the festival has become something of a tourist attraction and is used to raise money for HIV research.

As for what the festival actually looks like… well, if you are easily embarrassed, you might want to skip this one. There are literally penises – and, in the interest of equal rights – vaginas everywhere. Lollipops made to resemble genitalia, giant wooden penises, people with penis masks covering their head, penis souvenirs, vegetables carved into the shape of penises, and so much more.

Ducasse de Mons – Belgium

Also known as Doudou, this festival happens every year on Trinity Sunday (8 weeks after Easter) in the town of Mons, Belgium.

Back in 1349, the town of Mon suffered, like so many other places in Europe at the time, from an outbreak of the Plague. Town leaders decided to organize a procession through the town with the shrine of Waltrude, the patron saint of Mons. According to legend, the plague disappeared following the procession – a miracle!

Needless to say, the leaders thought they had done something incredibly right, so they made the procession an annual tradition. It has continued to take place every year since then, except during the French Revolution, both World Wars, and in the year 1803.

There are many activities associated with the festival, such as live music performances, a street sale, and children’s events. However, the core of the festivities are the procession and the battle.

The procession takes place the evening before Trinity Sunday. As part of a religious ceremony, the Priest removes the shrine from its Altar in Sainte-Waudru Collegiat Church and gives it to the town authorities for the duration of the festival. Then a torch-lit procession winds its way through the streets. On the morning of Trinity Sunday, the shrine is placed on a gilded cart, and pulled through the streets by draft horses. The carriage is accompanied by several guilds that represent the history of the region. At the end of the procession, the Car d’Or has to climb a steep, cobblestone street, the Rampe Sainte-Waudru. To help the horses with the immense weight, hundreds of people gather behind to push. Local superstition holds that if the Car d’Or doesn’t reach the top of the hill in one go, the city will suffer great misfortune.

The battle portion of the festivities, called Lumeçon, takes place on Trinity Sunday in the afternoon. It represents the fight between good and evil. On the side of good, you have Saint George riding horseback, protected by a group men dressed in white and others called chinchins (representing dogs). A 30 foot long dragon accompanied by devils and a group of men covered in ivy fight on the side of evil.

Photo via Flickr by David Taquin

Each devil carries a cow bladder full of air. With this weapon, they knock the chinchins and the spectators who have gathered around the arena. The dragon attacks Saint George with his tail, and also attacks the public. People try to take the hair off the tail because they believe it brings luck for a year.

While it may sound like total pandemonium, it’s important to note that the combat is precisely choreographed. Saint George on his horse turns clockwise, and the dragon turns in the other direction. Saint George tries to kill the dragon with his lance, but the lance always breaks upon contact. He then uses a pistol and finally kills the dragon on the third try. At 13:00 (1 p.m.), the carillon of Mons rings and the battle is over until next year.

Following the battle, the celebrations continue into the evening with a grand pageant of actors, musicians, and singers.

The Maiden Fair Of Mount Gaina – Romania

Mount Gaina (which means Chicken Mountain) was once a place where families used to bring their adolescent children and arrange weddings. The young women went to great lengths to prepare for the gathering, packing up their dowry in elaborately sculpted trunks. The weight of the dowry was then measured against the weight of the girl, to make sure it was of a sufficient size. Another key ritual was dancing, to ensure that the girl didn’t have a lame leg. If a couple got together following these rituals, one of the priests in attendance could marry them on the spot.

The practical origins of this celebration stem from the fact that the inhabitants of the Sunset (Apuseni) Mountains do not live close together. The houses are miles apart and travel through the mountains is not easily done. Mount Gaina served as a convenient place to enable them to meet and keep in touch.

The not-so-practical origins come from a legend about a hen that laid golden eggs. Once per year, the people would gather their children to meet the hen. When the hen was ready to descend, it would flap its wings and turn itself into a lovely fairy. Then it would hand over its golden eggs to a newly wedded couple. This was considered a symbol of happiness for them in their future life together. But tragedy struck. When the hen was descending, the devil took away all of its golden eggs ran off with them. Once the hen turned around and saw that her eggs had been taken, she left and never came back. Since then, the people of Romania gather together at the mountain with a hope that the fairy/hen will appear again.

Most Outrageous Festivals: The Maiden Fair in Romania is all about matchmaking... and golden eggs.
The festival takes place every year in the village of Avram Iancu, Romania, on the Sunday closest to July 20. It attracts people from all regions of the country. The festivities include music, traditional dances, and handicrafts.

Perchten – Austria

In Austria’s pagan past, Perchta was a goddess whose role was as a “guardian of the beasts.” Her other job was to oversee the spinning of wool.

She had two very different physical appearances – either as light and beautiful or elderly and haggard. In many old descriptions, Perchta had one large foot, sometimes called a goose foot or swan foot, perhaps for working the treadle as she did her spinning.

Perchta enters homes during the twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany (especially on the Twelfth Night). She would know whether the children and young servants of the household had behaved well and worked hard all year. She was particularly concerned to see that girls had spun the whole of their allotted portion of flax or wool during the year. If the children did their work in earnest, they might find a small silver coin the next day as their reward.

If the children had not done their work, however, she would slit their bellies open, remove stomach and guts, and stuff the hole with straw and pebbles. (Yikes!) She would also slit people’s bellies open and stuff them with straw if they ate something on the night of her feast day other than the traditional meal of fish and gruel.

Nice gal, huh? Nowadays, thankfully, people omit a lot of the gruesome details. Perchta is a “rewarder of the generous, and punisher of the bad, particularly lying children.”

The Austrian region of Pongau holds large Perchten processions every year. Participants wear masks; some beautiful, some hideous. Beautiful masks encourage financial windfalls, and the ugly masks drive away evil spirits.

The wooden masks resemble animals such as wolf, bear, eagle, etc. They have enormous fangs, tusks and/or horns. In some areas, the animal masks purposely lack ears, so they do not have to hear the painful screams of their victims. The Pongau region of Austria is home to the biggest and most striking Perchten festivals, with the most notable in Gastein, Altenmarkt, St. Johann, and Bischofshofen.

Up Helly Aa – Shetland

In Lerwick, the capital of the remote Scottish islands known collectively as Shetland, a fire festival takes place each year on the last Tuesday of January. Some time around 1840 the traditional Antonsmas festivities grew to include burning tar barrels. Despite the fact that this particular tradition could be hazardous in the narrow winding streets of Lerwick, it lasted for 30 years.

Around 1870, some enterprising young men sought to change the festival, setting the stage for the modern Up Helly Aa traditions still celebrated today. For starters, they were the ones who established the name and the date of the festival. But they also introduced the element of wearing disguises, or “guizing,” and the torchlit procession through town.

Most Outrageous Festivals: The Guizer Jarl of Up Helly Aa in Shetland
Up Helly Aa’s Guizer Jarl. (Photo via Flickr by Captain Oates)

The head of the festivities is the Guizer Jarl, who leads his Jarl Squad on a procession through the town on the morning of Up Helly Aa day. Following a visit to the British Legion and a reading of the official Up Helly Aa proclamation, they assemble at the ferry terminal for an official photograph. At a by-invitation-only reception at town hall, the Guizer Jarl receives freedom of the town for 24 hours.

The Guizer Jarl and his Squad visit schools, retirement homes, and the local hospital. Then they stop at the Shetland Museum before heading to an afternoon tea and final preparations for the evening’s festivities.

Because of the northern location of Shetland, the nighttime festivities start around 5:30 in the evening. The Junior procession comes first. The juniors are high school boys who have built their own galley (Viking ship) and carry torches through the town as they follow it to the burning site.

Around 7:30 pm, the Jarl Squad light their torches – around 900 of them! They walk through the town and, when all the torchbearers arrive at the final resting spot of the longship, they form a circle round it and sing the traditional Up Helly Aa song. As soon as the song ends, they throw their torches onto the ship and watch as it burns. Once the longship has burned and the flames die down, guizers sing the traditional song “The Norseman’s Home” before going on to a night of partying. Any available large room become a festival hall, presided over by a hostess who issues invitations to attend, and every guizer squad visits every hall in turn to dance and drink with the guests. As there can be dozens of squads and dozens of halls, this takes most of the night and well into the following morning!

Ain’t no party like a Viking party…

Las Bolas del Fuego – El Salvador

The town of Nejapa in El Salvador holds this fireball festival on August 31 every year. The celebration has two origins – one historical and the other religious. The historical version explains that the local volcano El Playon erupted in November, 1658 and forced the villagers of the old Nejapa village (known as Nixapa) to flee and settle at its current location. The religious version explains how San Jeronimo fought the Devil with balls of fire.

Festival goers enjoy eating tamales and drinking coffee while waiting for the big event. The celebration begins with a music festival and when night falls, the balls of fire start burning. Each ball consists of a bundle of rags tied up with wire. In preparation for the festival, the rag balls soak in flammable liquid (kerosene or gasoline) for about a month.

The brave combatants wear fireproof gloves and wet clothes as a precaution. Once the battle begins, they throw their flaming fireballs at each other while trying to not get hit.

Santa Marta de Ribarteme – Spain

This festival in the Galician town of As Neves celebrates near death experiences. Individuals who have had a near death experience attend the July 29 festival in a coffin, believe it or not. Relatives of the nearly departed carry the coffin through the streets to the church that holds a shrine to Santa Marta de Ribarteme, the saint of resurrection.

There, they pray to Santa Marta (Martha, the sister of Lazarus, the man whom Jesus raised from the dead). The prayer goes something like this: Virgin Santa Marta, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death. Then they give thanks for their lives and give a gift to the Saint, usually in the form of money.

Following a mass, which is projected across the village using loudspeakers, the procession walks to the local cemetery and then back to the church with a large statue of Santa Marta overseeing the celebrations. These celebrations include fireworks, music, and partying that carries on into the night.

Songkran – Thailand

In Thailand, new year comes in mid-April, and is celebrated in a most unusual way: massive water fights. In the traditional Songkran celebration, people carry figures of Buddha into the streets for a ritual cleansing. Tossing water at the statues supposedly washed away bad luck for the coming year. As with many festivals, things can escalate and go a bit over the top. In some parts of Thailand, what started as a dousing of statues has evolved into an all out water war.

Most Outrageous Festivals: Songkran in Thailand is a Massive Scale Water Fight
Photo via Flickr by John Shedrick

Celebrants at this festival use water guns, buckets, hoses… even elephants with a trunk full of water! In Thailand, this goes on for five days: April 12-16 every year. If you go, please keep in mind that while the festival seems like silly fun it is also a religious holiday for many Thai citizens. Behave respectfully. At no time should you be without a shirt in public, male or female. It is considered indecent and may land you with a fine or jail time.

Most Outrageous Festivals in the World
Ten of the craziest, most outrageous festivals in the world, from the Japanese penis festival to a gigantic water fight, and so much more…
My Scotland Bucket List

My Scotland Bucket List

Scotland Top Ten

Last week, someone on Quora asked me what places I would visit in Scotland if there were no restrictions on how long I could be there or how much money I could spend.  I came up with a list so fast, I started thinking maybe Scotland needs to be at the top of my “Places I Need to Go” list.  And what’s not to love about a country whose national animal is the unicorn? Here’s my Scotland Top Ten list:

1. Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye

Okay, if I had to pick just one area instead of ten, the Isle of Skye would probably be it. There’s just something about a sparsely populated island that I find intriguing. Maybe it’s the unspoiled landscapes, maybe it’s the chance to have a large area to yourself for a while, maybe it’s the feeling that your place in the universe isn’t so tiny and inconsequential after all. Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of islands like that, and Skye is especially beautiful.

Scotland Top Ten: Dunvegan Castle looks out over the water.Image via Flickr by Bea y Fredi

Dunvegan Castle covers ten different building periods from 1200 to the 1850s. It consists of a series of five separate buildings, each with its own unique character and story to tell. The remote setting of the castle, coupled with its backdrop of sky, mountains and sea, make it a must-see.

Visitors may see one of the castle’s most cherished heirlooms of clan MacLeod – the Fairy Flag. The exact origins have been lost in time, but most say that the flag was given to an ancient clan chieftain by the fairies. Stories of how the flag has brought luck to the family are legendary, dating from before the 15th century up through World War II. It has been credited with the ability to:

  1. multiply a clan’s military forces
  2. save the lives of certain clanfolk
  3. cure a plague on cattle
  4. increase the chances of fertility
  5. bring herring into the loch at Dunvegan.

The fabric of the flag is silk; specifically silk from the Far East. Some theories hold that the flag was brought home by a clansman who had fought in the Crusades. Today, the flag is in very fragile condition but can be seen in the drawing room of Dunvegan Castle.

2. Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye

Scotland Top Ten: Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye are truly magical places.
Image via Flickr by evocateur.

Who hasn’t seen these amazing images of fairy pools on Pinterest or Instagram? Well, the good news is that they are FOR REAL and fairly accessible. To get there, you will need to hike through the Glen Brittle forest. The water flows between pools with waterfalls of various shapes and sizes. Idyllic!  On a sunny day, the turquoise waters of the natural pools are so clear, it’s easy to see the stones at the bottom. After a good rain, the water rushes along at a brisk pace. Visitors could attempt to swim in the fairy pools, but most accounts say that the water is quite cold.

3. Culloden, in the Highlands

I have Diana Gabaldon to thank for my semi-obsessive fascination with the Scottish Highlands. It’s difficult to resist the temptation to travel there once you’ve read her Outlander series of books or seen the associated television show.  The landscape has contrasting qualities that make it mysteriously enticing… at once beautiful and brutal, welcoming and harsh, refined and barbaric.

Scotland Top Ten: The battlefield at Culloden is a must for anyone interested in Scottish history.
Image via Flickr by nicksarebi

On 16 April 1746, the final Jacobite Rising came to a head in one of the bloodiest battles in British history… the battle of Culloden. Jacobite supporters, seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British thrones, gathered to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s troops. In less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites.

The Culloden Visitor Centre beside the battlefield featuers artifacts from both sides of the battle and interactive displays that reveal the background to the conflict. It’s worth noting that this site commemorates a tragic event in Scottish history – one that changed Scotland forever. Visitors should keep that in mind by maintaining a solemn and respectful manner when at the site.

4. The Enchanted Forest event near Pitlochry, Perthshire

Scotland Top Ten: The woods come to life at the Enchanted Forest event in Pitlochry
Image via Flickr by J McSporran

Described as a premier sound and light event, the Enchanted Forest has won many awards in the UK. Last year, the show was sold out with 73,000 attendees. This year they are selling 80,000 tickets and will likely sell out again.

Each year the festival has a theme, and partners with local charities to benefit from the income it generates. It runs for about a month in the fall, and takes place in the evening. Visitors walk through Faskally Wood, which is transformed into a magical place by music, colorful lighting, and interactive special effects. You can expect to spend 60-90 minutes enjoying the show, but are welcome to stay longer if you would like.

5. Dunottar Castle Ruins, Aberdeenshire

Scotland Top Ten: Dunottar Castle sits in ruins on a clifftop in northeastern Scotland.
Photo by John Roberts on Unsplash

The castle is in ruins, but it’s so dramatic and romantic I still feel a need to see it in person. The oldest part of Dunnottar Castle still standing is the late 14th century keep. However, a chapel and other fortifications stood on the site at least 100 years earlier than that. We know this because in 1296 Scottish hero William Wallace killed an entire English garrison inside the castle with only a handful of men.

One of Dunnottar’s other significant places in history is that it was the hiding place for Scotland’s Crown Jewels after Charles II’s coronation in 1651. Within a year, Dunnottar was under siege by English troops. Six women smuggled the jewels out of the castle to safety, pledging to throw the jewels into the sea rather than see the English get their hands on them. Today, the Honours of Scotland are the oldest surviving set of crown jewels in the British Isles.

History aside, though… look at that view! I can’t wait to stand there and take it all in.

6. The Royal Scotsman train

Scotland Top Ten: Ride the Royal Scotsman on the line from Perth to Inverness at Dalnaspidal, nr Dalwhinnie, Badenoch and Strathspey, Scotland
Photo courtesy of Belmond.

Travel is a wonderful experience to be sure, but the actual mechanics of getting from A to B often leave a lot to be desired. Cramped seats on a budget airline, rental cars that are unfamiliar, crowded subways. Blech. I have a not-so-secret desire to travel in first class style so I can actually enjoy the journey as well as the destination. There’s no better way to do this than by riding the Royal Scotsman train, operated by Belmond.

The rail cars, which run April-October, are outfitted in mahogany and Edwardian elegance. Each journey carries no more than 36 guests and 12 staff.  With those numbers, you can be certain that you will be treated like royalty. The observation car even has a veranda that you can step out on to watch the scenery pass by. This palace on wheels even has a spa car! During the day you will enjoy excursions throughout the Scottish Highlands, and in the evening you will relax to a fine gourmet dinner. Meals and beverages are included in your fare, but it carries a hefty price: roughly $5750 for a three day journey or a whopping $13,000 for a seven day journey – and that’s per person.

Oh well, I can still dream, can’t I?

7. Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

If you fly to Scotland, the chances are good that you will fly into Edinburgh, the capital city. Just a word of warning. The latter half of this city’s name is pronounced nothing like the US city of Pittsburgh. It is somewhere between Edin-burrow or Edin-brah. I usually use the former pronunciation.  As long as you don’t say Edin-burg, I think you’ll be fine.

So, what is there to see in this Scottish city?  Plenty! But the thing that appeals to me most is the Royal Military Tattoo.

Scotland Top Ten: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a must for anyone who loves pageantry.
Image via Flickr by DVIDSHUB

Now, this tattoo has nothing at all to do with needles and ink. The term “tattoo” derives from a 17th-century Dutch phrase doe den tap toe (“turn off the tap”) a signal to tavern owners each night, played by a regiment’s Corps of Drums, to turn off the taps of their ale kegs so that the soldiers would retire to their lodgings at a reasonable hour. With the establishment of modern barracks and full military bands later in the 18th century, the term “tattoo” was used to describe the last duty call of the day, as well as a ceremonial form of evening entertainment performed by military musicians.

Each performance begins with a fanfare, which is usually a piece of music composed specifically for that year’s show. The Massed Pipes and Drums then perform, marching through the gatehouse of the castle and performing a traditional pipe band set. Then, the show’s featured acts perform individually. These acts could be either civilian or military. Whatever they are, you can bet that you will be entertained! The show concludes with a fireworks spectacular at each performance.

8. Up Helly Aa Festival in Lerwick, Shetland

Scotland Top Ten: The Up Helly Aa fire festival in the Shetland Islands is like none other in the world.
Image via Flickr by Vicky Brock

You’re watching a horde of fur-clad Vikings marching through the streets carrying torches. You might think you’ve suddenly traveled through time, but a more likely explanation is that you’re in Lerwick, Shetland on the last Tuesday in January.

Groups dress in costumes and carry torches through the town. At the end, they throw their torches into a replica Viking longship, resulting in a massive bonfire. Then the groups visit local halls to attend private parties. At the hall, each group performs an act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing.

9. The Glasgow Necropolis

Scotland Top Ten: The Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery situated on top of a hill.
Image via Flickr by p_a_h

As I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog, I love old cemeteries. This one in Glasgow, the name of which means City of the Dead, is situated on a hilltop. Over 50,000 people are buried there, but only 3500 or so of the burial sites are marked. A monument to John Knox, leader of the Scottish Reformation, stands near the summit of the hill, surrounded by some of the larger memorials. If it seems odd to put a monument in a cemetery, I would agree; however, the monument predates the cemetery, not vice versa.

Among the graves you will find in the Necropolis is the grave of William Miller, also known as Laureate of the Nursery. He is the author of the “Wee Willie Winkie” nursery rhyme.

10. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation in Dumfries

Scotland Top Ten: The Snail Mound and the Snake Mound in the Garden of Cosmic Speculation.
Image via Flickr by yellow book

Sadly, this site is only open one day a year, so I would have to plan my travels carefully. The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is a 30 acre sculpture garden that is inspired by science and mathematics. The owner, Charles Jencks, says that “the garden uses nature to celebrate nature, both intellectually and through the senses, including the sense of humor. A water cascade of steps recounts the story of the universe, a terrace shows the distortion of space and time caused by a black hole, a ‘Quark Walk’ takes the visitor on a journey to the smallest building blocks of matter, and a series of landforms and lakes recall fractal geometry.”

It’s such a unique place, I would love to be able to see it someday!

What about you?

Have you visited any of these places? Would you add any to my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

 

Scotland Top Ten: Places You Should Visit in Scotland Before You Kick the Bucket
The Penguin Capital of the World (No, it isn’t Antarctica)

The Penguin Capital of the World (No, it isn’t Antarctica)

Where is the Penguin Capital of the World?

Information you might need for your next trivia battle:  There are 18 species of penguins in the world, and most of them do not live in Antarctica.

That’s right, Antarctica is not the penguin capital of the world. Believe it or not, that title belongs to the Falkland Islands, which roughly one million penguins call home. The Falkland Islands are perhaps best known as the site of a 74 day territorial dispute between the UK and Argentina in 1982. (The British won what is now referred to as the Falklands War, and they maintained ownership of the islands as they have done since 1833.)

The Falklands’ OTHER Claim to Fame

What makes this little group of islands the penguin capital of the world?  Well, out of the aforementioned 18 species, five of them have colonies on the Falkland Islands. Antarctica, on the other hand, is only home to four species of penguin.

Visitors to the Falklands may encounter one or more of the five penguin species who call the islands home:

1. King Penguins

These are the second largest penguins in the world, typically 28-39 inches tall and weighing 20-40 pounds. They can dive up to 1000 feet, and spend up to five minutes underwater. They do not make nests for their eggs, but rather carry their eggs around with them at all times by keeping the egg on top of their feet.

Penguin Capital of the World: King Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

2. Rockhopper Penguins

Smaller than their King cousins, Rockhopper penguins only measure about 20 inches tall. Their distinguishing features are red eyes and pink webbed feet. They also have yellow and black spiky feathers on their head. Their Latin name, eudyptes chrysocome, means “golden haired good diver.”

Penguin Capital of the World: Rockhopper Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

3. Gentoo Penguins

These penguins have a wide white stripe across the top of their head. They are the third largest penguin species, measuring 20 to 35 inches. They are the fastest underwater swimmers among penguins, reaching speeds of up to 22 miles per hour. Gentoos will not breed in ice-covered areas.

Penguin Capital of the World: Gentoo Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

4. Magellanic Penguins

Named for the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who sailed around the southern tip of South America, these penguins. Their most distinguishing feature is that they have two horizontal black bands between the head and the breast. Magellanics always lay two eggs, and the parents take turns sitting on the nest and hunting for food during the 40-day incubation period.

Penguin Capital of the World: Magellanic Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.

5. Macaroni Penguins

These penguins, like their Rockhopper kin, have bright yellow-orange plumes on their head. Their name comes from the term used in 18th-century England to describe fashions with flamboyant or excessive ornamentation. A person who adopted this fashion was labelled a macaroni, as in the song “Yankee Doodle.”

Penguin Capital of the World: Macaroni Penguins are one of five species found in the Falkland Islands.
Image of Macaroni penguin via Flickr by Liam Quinn.

What Else Is There?

Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Falklands don’t have anything to offer visitors except penguin sightings. This South Atlantic archipelago is teeming with other nature and wildlife. It also boasts an unpolluted environment with clear blue skies, vast open spaces and stunning beaches.

The Penguin Capital of the World: The Falkland Islands are made up of an archipelago of over 700 islands.
Map of the Falklands

There are over 700 islands in the archipelago, but the two largest are East Island and West Island. The capital city of Stanley, and the majority of the Islands’ population, are on the East Island. The islands vary a great deal in climate and wildlife. The western islands are drier and sunnier, while the eastern islands experience a lot of rainfall.

Besides penguins, there are many other unusual birds to see in the Falklands. For example, over 70% of the world’s black-browed albatross breed around the islands. You may also spot South American terns, striated caracara, white chinned petrel, imperial shag, and many others.

The Falkland Islands, Penguin Capital of the World, is also home to 70% of the black-browed albatross nest sites in the world.
A black-browed albatross. Photo via Flickr by blachswan

And the varied wildlife of the Falklands doesn’t stop with birds. There are some fantastic opportunities to sight marine animals too.  The Falklands are home to seals and sea lions, orca, whales, dolphins, and more.

Because of the islands’ sparse population and semi-remote location, there is a lot of unspoiled nature to enjoy, from beaches to mountains. The offshore islands in the west have jagged cliff tops and rugged peaks, some dropping steeply. Others sweep down to white sand beaches, inviting coves and boulder-strewn shores. West Falkland has a rock formation known as “Indian Village” because of its wigwam-like shapes. In contrast, the small islands to the east are flatter – but no less scenic – with open land and magnificent seashores.

The Falkland Islands are the Penguin Capital of the World, but they also offer visitors plenty of gorgeous scenery to admire too, such as Gypsy Cove.
Gypsy Cove. Photo via Flickr by nimdok.

So How Do I Get There?

Long story short: It isn’t cheap or easy. As with any island, you can only reach the Falklands by plane or boat. Flights to the Falklands depart year round from Santiago de Chile. Cruise ships, many of which continue on to Antarctica, visit the islands during the high season of December-February.

Only one location on earth can boast that it's home to five species of penguins, and it isn't Antarctica. Click here to discover what's the Penguin Capital of the World.
TV Shows to Inspire Your Next Trip to the UK

TV Shows to Inspire Your Next Trip to the UK

TV Shows Set in the UK to Inspire Your Next Trip

It’s no secret that I am, above all else, a hopeless Anglophile. My choices of entertainment are no exception – I adore British television and find it far superior to what we have here in the US. The plot lines are more complex, the humor can be much subtler, and the actors look like real people, not unrealistically perfect specimens of humanity. (Except maybe Aidan Turner in Poldark. But more on that later.) The added benefit of watching British television is that many TV shows set in the UK have a star that does not get any credit: the scenery. I’d like to share with you some of my favorite TV shows set in the UK that have inspired my travels – past and future.

NOTE: In the US, we refer to a year’s worth of programs on a show as a “season.” In the UK, they call it a “series.” For the most part, I have tried to use “series” here because streaming services list it that way.

1. Shetland – the Shetland Isles

This is the most recent show that I’ve watched. It takes place on the Shetland Isles, which are a group of islands northeast of Scotland. If you’ve heard of Fair Isle sweaters, then you’re at least a tiny bit familiar with Shetland. One of the islands is Fair Isle (population 55).

TV Shows Set in the UK - Shetland features murder mysteries set in the Shetland Isles

The show features Douglas Henshall as DI Jimmy Perez, a widower who has raised his stepdaughter alone since the death of his wife. His daughter is now college age, and heading off to Glasgow, which leaves Jimmy somewhat alone and at a loss as to what to do with this phase of his life.

One of the police officers under DI Perez is DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh. Originally from Glasgow, Tosh has always struggled to fit into the close knit community of Shetland. But under the mentorship of Perez she flourishes and becomes a vital member of his team. Her character becomes especially well developed in series 3.

What I like about the show: Well, besides the beautiful landscape, I especially like the characters of Perez and Tosh. I also found the “whodunit” aspect to be intriguing as I could never figure out (before the characters did) who had committed the crimes or why.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: I want to visit Shetland (despite the 12-14 boat ride from northern Scotland!). Specifically, I’d like to go in late January to see the fire festival known as Up Helly Aa.

TV Shows set in the UK: In one episode, Shetland features the fire festival known as Up Helly Aa.
Photo via Flickr by Vincenczo Fileccia.

Groups dress in costumes and carry torches through the town. At the end, they throw their torches into a replica Viking longship. Then the groups visit local halls to attend private parties. At the hall, each group performs an act, which may be a send-up of a popular TV show or film, a skit on local events, or singing or dancing. The Up Helly Aa festival in Lerwick serves as the backdrop for one of the show’s episodes.

What you need to know before you watch it: Series 1 and 2 of the show consisted of two part episodes based upon the mystery novels of Ann Cleeves. Series 3 departed from that format with a six part episode written solely for television.  Series 1-3 of Shetland are streaming on Netflix; Season 4 has been released in the UK but so far has not made it across the pond.

2. Outlander – Scotland (Inverness & the Highlands)

Outlander is a story that has it all — romance, time travel, war, politics, villainous scheming, espionage, torture, and history. Add to that the gorgeous main characters and beautiful highland scenery, and it’s a must-see.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Much of the Outlander series takws place in the Scottish highlands.

What I like about the show: I read the book series by Diana Gabaldon long before the TV series aired. What I appreciate most is that the show is pretty faithful to the books, which is a rare and wonderful thing. Also, the cinematography is very visually appealing, and then there’s this guy:

TV Shows Set in the UK: Sam Heughan stars in Outlander as Jamie Fraser

Where it has inspired me to travel: After seeing how beautiful the mountains of northern Scotland are, I have placed it much higher on my list of places I want to visit.

What you need to know before you watch it: The show is not available via Netflix or A,mason Prim3. The fourth season will premiere in November 2018. Starz has already renewed the series for a fifth and sixth season.

3. Doc Martin – Cornwall, England

This was the first show that really made me fall in love with a place, and it’s my favorite of all the TV shows set in the UK. Set in the north Cornwall fishing village of Port Isaac, Doc Martin is the story of a very intelligent, highly skilled London surgeon who suddenly develops a fear of blood. Pretty inconvenient for a surgeon, right? Well, he gets reassigned as a general practitioner in the fictional small town of Portwenn and, as he has no bedside manner whatsoever, hilarity ensues.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Doc Martin shows off the north Cornish coast of England.
Martin Clunes stars as Dr Martin Ellingham in Doc Martin.

Unlike many television shows filmed on location, this program has many scenes filmed right in the village. Many times, viewers will see the characters walking down the street, popping into a store, or welcoming someone into their home… and all of those places are right there in Port Isaac. The large white building with church like arched windows in the photo below is a hotel (in fact, the one where we stayed). But in the show it’s the village school, where Martin’s love interest works.

TV Shows Set in the UK: the Cornish village of Port Isaac is the setting for the show Doc Martin.

The show has proven very popular, with eight series already aired, and a ninth in the works for 2019.

What I like about the show: It’s quite funny, but also a bit suspenseful as you watch Doc Martin try to figure out why someone is ill.  A bit like House, MD, but not as serious. Every episode features lovely, quirky characters who will either remind you of someone you know or make you wish you knew them. (Sole exception: the secretary from Series 1, who is absolutely dreadful.)

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Because I fell in love with this show almost from the first time I watched it, going to Cornwall, and especially to Port Isaac, was a priority for me. We have already crossed this one off of our bucket list, and it was a wonderful trip.  Cornwall is every bit as stunning in person as it is on television. I hope to return some day.

What you need to know before you watch it: Series 1 through 6 of Doc Martin are streaming on Netflix.

4. Sherlock – London

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his Sherlock Holmes stories between 1887 and 1927. The BBC has taken the beloved title character and placed him in modern day London. The result is a brilliant adaptation of classic literature that is relevant to today’s audiences while staying true to the original story. Add to that the brilliant talent of Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role, and it’s completely riveting.

TV Shows Set in the UK: BBC's Sherlock, the most recent incarnation of the famed detective, is set in modern-day London.

What I like about the show: Hands down, the dialogue! Each episode abounds with quotable sentences and stinging one-liners. However, they speak so fast at times that it’s difficult to take in everything that they’re saying. I usually watch with English SDH subtitles on just to make sure I don’t miss anything important.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: I went to the Sherlock Holmes Museum in London on our last visit there. However, it was a disappointment as this incarnation of the detective was noticeably absent from the museum.

What you need to know before you watch it: The episodes are three to a series, and they run 90 minutes each. There have been four series total, and all are currently available streaming on Netflix. No word yet on whether there will be a fifth series.

5. Poldark – Cornwall

Ross Poldark returns home from fighting in the colonies’ Revolutionary War to find that his father is dead, his family home is in shambles, and his beloved, Elizabeth, has wed his cousin’s wedding proposal. Always a risk taker, the stubborn Ross decides to restore his estate and his family’s disused mine. He finds opposition at every turn. This underdog with a strong sense of social justice wants to prove that he alone is the master of his destiny.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Poldark is set in late 18th century Cornwall.

 

What I like about it: Well, Cornwall, for a start. And Aidan Turner is a fantastically broody Ross Poldark. I also love the headstrong and self-sufficient Demelza, and Ross’ cousin, Verity. These women are intelligent, capable of taking care of themselves, and firm in their opinions.

TV Shows Set in the UK - Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Poldark
Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Poldark.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Back to Cornwall, although that’s an easy sell for me. Specifically, I would like to learn more about and visit sites pertaining to the area’s tin mining heritage.

What you need to know before you watch it: The show is based on a 12-book series written between 1945 and 2002. This is not the only television adaptation of the Poldark story. Other versions were made in 1975 and 1996. But they don’t have Aidan Turner!  Series 1-3 are available streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Series 4 is currently airing in the US on PBS stations.

6. Broadchurch – Dorset’s Jurassic Coast

I recommend Broadchurch to nearly everyone I discuss television with. It is so brilliantly put together – the cinematography is stunning and the music perfectly complements what is happening on screen. The series 1 debut episode opens with the discovery of an 11 year old boy’s body. He has been murdered, resulting in enormous repercussions of grief, mutual suspicion and media attention on the small town. Detectives Alec Hardy (played by Doctor Who’s David Tenant) and Ellie Miller (played by Olivia Colman, now one of my favorite British actresses) set about finding out who killed the boy, and why. But every time they (and you, the viewer) think the answer is obvious, it turns out to be a dead end.

TV Shows Set in Dorset: Broadchurch is set in a small town on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, England.

What I liked about the show: So many things! For starters, there’s the music (which is something I rarely even notice, let alone appreciate!). Also the dynamic between Hardy and Miller. Then there’s the way the show kept me guessing about who had killed the boy. (Ultimately, I was wrong each time I thought I had figured out the identity of the killer.) It’s just an all-around excellent show, and I can’t say enough good things about it.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Dorset, obviously.  It’s a very dramatic coastline, with huge cliffs looking out over the sea.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Broadchurch features the Jurassic coast of Dorset as its locale.

What you need to know before you watch it: There are three series of the show.  Series 1 is the whodunit, followed by series 2, which is the trial of the murderer and the turmoil around it. Series 3 is an unrelated case, a rape, with the same detectives investigating. All three seasons are available in streaming from Netflix.

7. Last Tango in Halifax – Yorkshire

Celia Dawson and Alan Buttershaw are both widowed and in their seventies. Attracted to each other as teenagers in the 1950s, they never expressed their feelings, and Celia’s family moved away before they had a chance to do so. After their respective grandchildren persuade them to join Facebook, they reconnect with each other and meet. After their reunion, Alan and Celia discover that they still feel as passionately for each other as they did when they were teenagers.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Last Tango in Halifax takes place in Yorkshire.

The romance between Alan and Celia runs in contrast to the the troubles of their own grown-up daughters. Alan’s daughter Gillian and Celia’s daughter Caroline are complete opposites: widowed Gillian runs a farm and works part-time in a supermarket, while Oxford-educated Caroline is the headmistress of a successful school. Their parents’ engagement affects both daughters’ lives. Gillian wonders how she and her son will cope without her father around to help. Caroline, struggling with depression and her feelings for a female colleague, feels that her mother’s unconventional romance gives her “permission to finally admit to being who she really is.”

Many comical and cringe-worthy moments follow as the characters try to sort out their feelings, deal with their changes in circumstance, and come to terms with how their choices impact the people they love.

What I like about the show: I felt like the characters were real people with real problems. They weren’t rich, powerful, beautiful people who had perfect lives. Nor were they total basket cases who couldn’t turn around without causing drama and upheaval. They were real people with real struggles, perfectly relatable to viewers.

TV Shows Set in the UK: the characters of Last Tango in Halifax are relatable through all their ups and downs.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Because of the rolling hills and stunning Yorkshire countryside, I was inspired to travel to that county in 2016. It was every bit as beautiful and as picturesque as I’d seen in the show. It’s a lovely area of the UK, and I highly recommend that you explore it a bit.

What you need to know before you watch it: There are three series of the show and a two part Christmas special/epilogue.  All of them are available via streaming on Netflix.

8. Hinterland – Wales

Hinterland is described as a “noir police drama” set in Aberystwyth, a historic market town and holiday resort on Wales’ western coast. It differs from most television shows in that the cast filmed every scene twice – once in English and once in Welsh. The show features troubled DCI Tom Mathias solving murders while searching for personal redemption.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Hinterland is one of the few shows to be set in Wales.

What I like about the show: Honestly? Not a whole lot. I watched 5.5 episodes before calling it quits. I appreciated seeing glimpses of Wales, but I didn’t particularly care for the characters, and found the show to be a little too grim for my tastes. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, there are few alternatives. Not many of the TV shows set in the UK have Wales as their setting.  For a lighthearted alternative, I recommend the 1995 Hugh Grant film The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain.

TV Shows Set in the UK: Hinterland features beautiful Welsh landscapes.

Where it’s inspired me to travel: Wales has been on my bucket list for a while now. I’d still love to go there.

What you need to know before watching it: All three series of the show are available to stream on Netflix. The version available on Netflix is almost exclusively an English language version, and each episode runs about 90 minutes.

But Wait – There’s More!

And if this isn’t enough, consider subscribing to the all-British streaming channel BritBox. I’ve arranged for my like-minded Anglophile readers to receive a free trial of BritBox at Amazon.com. I know you’ll love it – they have documentaries, dramas, comedies, historical series, and more. Like most streaming services, they routinely add new shows, so you’ll never run out of great content. Give it a try today!

 

TV Shows Set in the UK that will inspire you to travel there!
Infographic: A Weekend in Canterbury, Kent

Infographic: A Weekend in Canterbury, Kent

A Weekend in Canterbury

Made famous by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales over 600 years ago, this Kentish town is still thriving and has plenty to offer weekend visitors. Just two hours away from London, it makes the perfect destination for a weekend getaway. From UNESCO World Heritage sites to a Bollywood style dance class, a weekend in Canterbury has something for everyone to enjoy.

How to spend a weekend in Canterbury Kent, England.

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

21 New UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Part 2

For my post on the first ten new UNESCO World Heritage sites, click here.

11. Taputapuātea, center of the “Polynesian Triangle”, French Polynesia

The Marae, or burial site of Taputapuatea in French Polynesia - one of the new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The marae of Taputapuātea.

Taputapuātea on Ra’iatea Island is part of the Polynesian Triangle – the last part of the globe to be settled by humans. The property includes two forested valleys, a portion of lagoon and coral reef and a strip of open ocean. At the heart of the property is the Taputapuātea marae complex – a political, ceremonial and funerary center. The site has a paved courtyard with a large standing stone at its center. Widespread in Polynesia, the marae were places of learning where priests and navigators from all over the Pacific would gather to offer sacrifices to the gods and share their knowledge of the genealogical origins of the universe, and of deep-ocean navigation. Taputapuātea is an exceptional testimony to 1,000 years of mā’ohi civilization.

12. Tarnowskie Góry, lead-silver-zinc mine, Poland

The mines of Tarnowskie Góry and the underground water system there - are one of the new UNESCO World a Heritage sites.
Today, you can tour the mines of Tarnowskie Góry.

Southern Poland contains one of the main mining areas of central Europe.  The site at
Tarnowskie Góry includes the entire underground mine with adits, shafts, galleries and even a water management system. According to UNESCO, Tarnowskie Góry represents a significant contribution to the global production of lead and zinc.

According to legend, in 1490 a local peasant-farmer named Rybka found a strange, heavy, metallic stone while plowing the field near village of Tarnowice. He presented his find to a local priest; within three decades the town became the largest silver mining center in the area. Its population rivaled in size some of the major cities of the Renaissance world. Prospectors were coming from all corners of the continent, some as far as Spain. They were spurred on by the massive amount and quality of ore, so high that on many occasions it was said to be practically pure, metallic silver. Silver, lead and zinc were bountiful in these grounds and the evidence of an early metal production dates back to at least 3rd century AD. Sadly, in the beginning of the 20th century, the source of the silver ore dried out and the mining stopped completely.

13. Sambor Prei Kuk temple zone, Cambodia

The temples of Sambor Prei Kurt, Cambodia are one of the 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A temple in Sambor Prei Kuk

Sambor Prei Kuk is a Khmer name meaning “the temple in the richness of the forest.” The archaeological site has been identified as Ishanapura, capital of the Chenla Empire that flourished there in the late 6th/early 7th centuries. The vestiges of the city cover an area of over 15 square miles and include a walled city center as well as numerous temples. Ten of the temples are octagonal, unique specimens of their kind in southeast Asia. Decorated sandstone elements in the site include lintels, pediments and colonnades – they are true masterpieces. The art and architecture developed here became models for other parts of the region and lay the ground for the unique Khmer style of the Angkor period.

 

14. English Lake District, United Kingdom

The Lake District in England is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Located in northwest England, the English Lake District is a mountainous area whose valleys have been modeled by glaciers in the Ice Age. From the 18th century onwards, the Picturesque and Romantic movements celebrated this area in paintings, drawings and words. It also inspired an awareness of the importance of beautiful landscapes and triggered early efforts to preserve them. Interestingly, only one of the lakes in the Lake District is called by that name, Bassenthwaite Lake. All the others – such as Windermere, Coniston Water, Ullswater and Buttermere – are meres, tarns and waters.

15. Valongo Wharf, archeological site, Brazil

The Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janeiro is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.
The Valongo Wharf, now surrounded by the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site encompasses the entirety of Jornal do Comércio Square in the center of Rio. It was the landing site and center of trading of African slaves from 1811 until the banning of the transatlantic slave trade in 1831. An estimated 900,000 Africans arrived in South America via Valongo.

16. Venetian Works of Defense, Croatia, Italy, Montenegro

The Venetian defense work of the 15th-17th centuries are one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Aerial view of the Venetian defense system in Palmanova, Italy.

This property consists of 15 components of defense works in Italy, Croatia and Montenegro, spanning more than 600 miles between the Lombard region of Italy and the eastern Adriatic Coast. The fortifications throughout Venice and its mainland territories protected the Republic of Venice from other European powers to the northwest. Those of Venice’s overseas territories protected the sea routes and ports in the Adriatic Sea to the Levant. They were necessary to support the expansion and authority of Venice. The introduction of gunpowder led to significant shifts in military techniques and architecture. These changes are reflected in the design of alla moderna bastioned fortifications, which spread throughout Europe.

17. ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape, South Africa

The Khomari Cultural Landscape of Botswana and South Africa is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage site.
Bushmen in the ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape

The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape is located at the border between Botswana and Namibia. The area contains evidence of human occupation from the Stone Age to the present. They developed specific knowledge, cultural practices and worldview related to the geographical features of their environment. The ǂKhomani Cultural Landscape bears testimony to the way of life that prevailed in the region over thousands of years. In fact, a set of tools almost identical to that used by the present-day inhabitants of the area was discovered at Border Cave in 2012. Those tools dated to 44,000 BC!

18. Landscapes of Dauria, Mongolia, Russia

Dauria Landscape, an area in Russia and Mongolia, is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.
A Daurian hedgehog.

Shared between Mongolia and the Russian Federation, Dauria is a sea of grass that forms the best and most intact example of an undisturbed steppe ecosystem. Because of the climate’s distinct wet and dry periods, Dauria contains a wide diversity of species. The steppes serve as habitats for rare species of animals, such as the White-Naped crane and the Great bustard, as well as millions of vulnerable, endangered or threatened migratory birds. It is also a critical site on the migration path for the Mongolian gazelle.

The region has given its name to various animal species including Daurian hedgehog, and the following birds: Asian brown flycatcher (Muscicapa daurica), Daurian jackdaw, Daurian partridge, Daurian redstart, Daurian starling, Daurian shrike and the red-rumped swallow (Hirundo daurica).

19. Los Alerces National Park, Argentina

Los Alerces National Park in Argentina is one of 21 new UNESCORTED World Heritage sites.

Los Alerces National Park is located in the Andes Mountains of northern Patagonia. The park is vital for the protection of some of the last portions of continuous Patagonian Forest. A number of endemic and threatened species of flora and fauna make the park their home. The park was created in 1937 in order to protect the alerce forest, and other plants of the Patagonian Andes. The National Park has the largest alerce forest of Argentina. The slow growing alerce is one of the longest-living trees in the world; some in the park are around 3,000 years old, with many of them over 1,000 years.

20. Qinghai Hoh Xil, China

Qinghai Hoh Xil in China is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Qinghai Hoh Xil is the largest and highest plateau in the world. This extensive area of alpine mountains and steppe systems is situated more than 4,500 m above sea level, where sub-zero average temperatures prevail all year round. Despite the harsh climate, Hoh Xil is home to more than 230 species of wild animals, 20 of which are under Chinese state protection.  Protected species include the wild yak, wild donkey, white-lip deer, brown bear and the endangered Tibetan antelope, or chiru. The abundant plateau pika, a small burrowing rodent, is the main food of the region’s brown bears; the bears also feed on the yak and antelope.

21. Historic city of Ahmedabad, India

The historic walled city of India is one of 21 new UNESCO World Heritage site.
Entrance to Bhadra Fort in Ahmedabad

The walled city of Ahmedabad, founded in 1411 by Sultan Ahmad Shah presents a rich architectural heritage from the sultanate period. This is nowhere more evident than in the Bhadra citadel, the walls and gates of the city, and numerous mosques and tombs. The city consists of densely-packed traditional houses in gated streets with features such as bird feeders, public wells and religious institutions. The city continued to flourish as the capital of the State of Gujarat for six centuries, up to the present.

new UNESCO World Heritage Sites
8 Amazing Airbnb Homes

8 Amazing Airbnb Homes

Airbnb’s Most Amazing Homes

Sometimes picking a place to stay when we travel is as much fun as planning where to go and what to see.  There are some truly amazing homes available on Airbnb that you can rent.  They’re so good, they’ll make you want to book the place to stay and then plan your trip around its location, instead of vice versa!

1. The Seashell House – Isla Mujeres, Mexico

airbnb most amazing homes

This home in a gated community on Isla Mujeres seems like it was made from two giant shells.  In fact, shells dominate the decor inside the house as well. The plumbing fixtures are also shells, pouring out water into the sink and shower.

airbnb most amazing homes

Shells are also built into the walls both inside and outside the house, and the property features a stunning view of the water. Isla Mujeres is a small island off the Yucatan Peninsula, and the closest airport is Cancun. The property includes a private pool, two king beds, kitchenette, wifi, and air conditioning. The rental fee for the Seashell House is from $308 per night, and it sleeps a maximum of four people in two bedrooms. The property has received 131 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

2. Underground Hygge – Orondo, WA

airbnb most amazing homes

This Hobbit-inspired home is nestled right into the mountainside of the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge. The doorway and windows are round, providing renters with an amazing view of the surrounding countryside.

airbnb most amazing homes

The house is outfitted with many natural elements – the floor appears to be made of log slices, the fireplace and chimney are made of stone, the sink basin is made of well-preserved natural wood. It isn’t hard to imagine a peaceful little hobbit living here. Staying here does require a bit of a hike uphill to reach the property from the parking area, and I really wouldn’t recommend staying here if you’re claustrophobic at all. (The largest room is 7 ft 10 inches by 11 feet. Also, if booking in winter, you will need a vehicle with four wheel drive, as they do get a lot of snow December – March.  The property is available to rent from $250 per night, and it sleeps two. The property has received 185 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

3. Skylodge – Calca, Peru

airbnb most amazing homes

For those who want their lodging to provide them with an unforgettable experience, there are the Skylodge Adventure Suites in Peru’s Cusco region.  We actually saw these from our train to Machu Picchu in May.  They are “transparent luxury capsules” that are attached to a mountainside in the Sacred Valley of Peru. This may be the only hotel that you have to climb a mountain (1300+ feet) to enter. I’m a little unclear about how the booking works. It appears as though you make a reservation for one person, but they say that maximum occupancy for the three pods is 12 people. Rates are from $462 per night, which includes a gourmet dinner with wine, transportation from Cuzco, professional bilingual guides, and breakfast in the morning. There is a strict cancellation policy, so be sure you are going to stay there before you book. The property has received 53 reviews with an average rating of 4.5 stars. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

4. The Cozy Palace Bamileke Suite – Marrakesh, Morocco

amazing airbnb homes morocco cozy palace

This gorgeous little place just oozes romance, with colorful tiles, arching doorways, and a four poster bed. It is a suite in a riad – a traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard.

amazing airbnb homes cozy palace morocco

A skylight fills the bedroom with natural light, and the courtyard is the perfect place to relax.  Guests also have access to a rooftop terrace which provides excellent views.  The suite accommodates up to four people, and rents from just $42 per night!  The property has received 401 reviews with a 5-star average rating. Click here to see its listing on Airbnb.

5. Old Smock Windmill – Kent, England

How many people can say that they’ve slept in a windmill?  You can, if you rent this renovated windmill in the English county of Kent.

amazing airbnb homes old smock windmill kent england uk

You will have three floors at your disposal.  Each is furnished with modern conveniences while retaining the rustic look of a bygone era.

amazing airbnb homes old sock windmill kent england uk

Notable features and furnishings include a copper basin sink, walk in shower with under floor heating, gas wood-burning stove, and a patio/deck.  The rental fee for the Old Smock windmill is from $235 per night. Sleeps a maximum of four people in two bedrooms. The property has 154 reviews, with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

6.  San Giusto Abbey Tower – Tuscania, Italy

amazing airbnb homes san giusto abbey tower italy

Built in 1146, San Giusto is a medieval monastery located in a beautiful valley one hour north of Rome. The tower has been recently restored and decorated, taking into consideration the beauty and austerity of a 12th century building: medieval charm and modern comfort. 

amazing airbnb homes san giusto italy

As you can see above, the decor is very much in keeping with the building’s age and purpose. If you are looking for a luxurious, spa-like environment, this will not be what you want. On the other hand, if you want to feel like you’ve stepped back in time, you will probably enjoy this.  The apartment has 4 floors: living room and kitchen, 2 bedrooms (each with a bathroom) on the upper floors and a terrace that overlooks the valley. The tower rents from $184 per night and can accommodate up to four guests. The property has 64 reviews with an average rating of 5 stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

7.  Jack Sparrow House – Cornwall, England

amazing airbnb homes jack sparrow cornwall england uk

If quirky and cozy is your thing, you will love this little house! (Have I mentioned that I think Cornwall is the most beautiful place on earth?  Why, yes, I have.) It consists of a comfortable room with a seating/kitchen area downstairs and a romantic bed on the second floor with beautiful views of Porthallow Bay.  

amazing airbnb homes jack sparrow house cornwall england uk
The cabin has been lovingly constructed with careful attention to detail. There is a toilet in the house, but shower facilities are located nearby in a converted horse trailer. The Jack Sparrow house rents from $134 per night and, needless to say, it can only accommodate two people. This property has 138 reviews with an average rating of five stars. Click here to view its Airbnb listing.

8. St Pancras Clock Tower – London, England

amazing airbnb homes st pancras clock tower london england uk

There’s a new place on my bucket list!  There are two Airbnb apartments located inside the clock tower above St Pancras International Station in London. It features a 30 ft high room in the tower overlooking many of London’s landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral.

amazing airbnb homes st pancras clock tower london uk

Not only is sleeping inside a clock tower a really cool experience, but the location of this clock tower is exceptionally convenient for visitors to London.  From there, you can walk to many of London’s sights, including the British Library, the British Museum, and the West End. The tower does not have bells, and road/rail noise is minimal; however, you should be aware that the windows are not curtained and light will stream in from sun and/or floodlights. The apartments accommodate up to four people and rent from $147 per night.  The property has received 341 reviews, with an average rating of five stars. Click here to view its listing.

If you haven’t tried Airbnb before, what are you waiting for?  This is just a small sampling of the unique and cozy homes available on their site.  Click here, and you’ll get $40 off your first Airbnb stay!

Amazing Airbnb Homes
Buckingham Palace Opens New Exhibit of Royal Gifts

Buckingham Palace Opens New Exhibit of Royal Gifts

PLEASE NOTE:  This exhibit has now ended.

It’s Good to Be the Queen

During its summer opening (July 22 to October 1), the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace will hold an exhibit of over 250 items given to Queen Elizabeth II.

It is customary when heads of state from different countries meet for them to exchange gifts as a symbol of diplomacy. Because Queen Elizabeth II has reigned for over 65 years, she has received quite a few of these royal gifts. This exhibit highlights some of the more spectacular items she has received from over 100 different countries. The gifts are special not only because of their beauty and rarity, but in many cases they are also special because of who presented them to the queen. Many of the gifts were from notable world leaders (past and present), including US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, South African President Nelson Mandela, and President Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China.

Here are some of the items that will be highlighted at the exhibit:

Vessel of Friendship (China)

buckingham palace exhibit royal gifts vessel of friendship china

This is a model of the treasure ship in which navigator and diplomat Zeng He sailed in the early 15th century. The prow of the ship features a dove and olive branch medallion, representing peace. The sides of the hull contain elements from Dunhuang frescoes, as well as traditional Chinese symbols of friendship and peace.

Yoruba Throne (Nigeria)

yoruba throne beaded chair nigeria buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit

The Yoruba people of Nigeria presented this throne to the Queen in 1956. Embroidering the beading and creating patterns for beadwork chairs and footstools is an important spiritual exercise for the Yoruba people. The designs denote many aspects of spiritual life – power, the past, the future and respect for ancestors and descendants. Beadwork and royalty were closely associated in this culture, so owning vast quantities of beads was considered a source of wealth and status. The wealthiest Yoruba kings employed craftspeople to embroider their clothing and other objects. These ornately-decorated pieces, in turn, became an important part of their regalia.

Totem Pole (Canada)

buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit canada totem pole

Another hand-crafted item, the First Nations of Canada’s north-west coast carved this totem pole. It features the mythical thunderbird at the top, with its wings outstretched. The aboriginal people of Canada believed that the bird brings thunder by flapping its wings.

Salt (Salt Island, British Virgin Islands)

buckingham palace royal gifts

Salt Island, part of the British Virgin Islands, used to pay tribute of a pound of salt every year on the monarch’s birthday. Over time, as salt became less valuable and more easily attained, the custom ceased. The Governor-General of the British Virgin Islands reintroduced this tradition in 2015, presenting this bag of salt for The Queen’s 90th Birthday. The bag features a scene of an islander collecting salt.

Coconut Baskets (Tonga)

buckingham palace royal gifts exhibit coconut baskets tonga

Queen Salote of Tonga presented these baskets to Queen Elizabeth II during her Commonwealth visit in 1953.  The baskets represent an industry that Queen Salote had re-established on the island of Tonga. Queen Salote endeared herself to the British public during Elizabeth II’s Coronation.  Leaving the Coronation service at Westminster Abbey in the rain, she insisted on riding in an open carriage, and rode back to Buckingham Palace waving to the crowds.

UPDATE: The exhibition is now closed.

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

An Italian Riviera Village… in Wales

Do you ever feel as though a vacation on the Italian Riviera is just an impossible dream? Well, if you live in the UK, the experience may be a lot easier than you think. Just go to Portmeirion, the Italian Riviera village located in Wales.

Portmeirion wales
The village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed and built the village of Portmeirion in Gwynedd, Wales, between 1925 and 1975.  He was an architect and environmentalist who wanted to create a functional and attractive private village.  His purpose: to demonstrate how a naturally beautiful place could be developed without spoiling it. As a result, Portmeirion has the perfect combination of natural beauty and stunning architecture.

At Portmeirion, Williams-Ellis paid tribute to the atmosphere of the Mediterranean. While he repeatedly denied claims that Portmeirion was based on the Italian Riviera town of Portofino, he also said, “How should I not have fallen for Portofino? Indeed its image remained with me as an almost perfect example of the man-made adornment and use of an exquisite site.”

Portmeirion wales portofino italy comparison

The Village

At first glace, the village of Portmeirion seems larger than it really is. This effect is achieved by architectural designs that include arches, slopes and varying window sizes. Strolling through the area, you can admire the statues and other whimsical details that fill every nook with interest.

portmeirion wales battery square
Battery Square, Portmeirion

Battery Square contains guest accommodations, an aromatherapy spa and a café with outdoor tables on the cobbles – a great spot to grab a coffee, Mediterranean-style.

The  Hotel Portmeirion is the hub of the village’s quayside.

portmeirion hotel wales
Hotel Portmeirion, Quayside

In June 1981, fire gutted the hotel. It took nearly seven years to restore the hotel to its former glory.  Fortunately, however, the work was so well done that it received a Good Hotel Guide award for “Brilliant restoration of a great hotel.”  In the past, the Hotel has hosted notable people such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, and Noël Coward.

Nearby

Outside the main village but within the Portmeirion estate, there is a striking mansion known as Castell Deudraeth.

portmeirion castell deudraeth
Castell Deudraeth

The mansion has a stone façade, tall crenellations and Gothic flourishes.  But don’t let its exterior fool you.  Inside, you will find a hotel with 11 modernized guest rooms and suites.

So, if you fancy a taste of the Italian Riviera without actually going to Italy, maybe you should consider Portmeirion. Admission for a day visit costs £10-12.  Alternatively, you could stay overnight in the Hotel Portmeirion, Castell Deudraeth, or numerous self-catering cottages within the village.

For more information:

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

The World in Miniature: Six Great Dollhouses from Around the Globe

It’s All in the Details

Ever since my childhood, I’ve been a little fascinated with dollhouses. There is something magical about seeing a slice of everyday life shrunk down into miniature. And the more details there are, the more magical it becomes. Here are five amazing dollhouses from around the world that are on my bucket list to see, plus one I’ve already seen.

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